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This review is taken from PN Review 242, Volume 44 Number 6, July - August 2018.

Cover of Earthling
Ian PopleA Calm Eye

James Longenbach, Earthling (W.W. Norton) $16.95
James Longenbach has a considerable reputation as a critic. In particular, he has written on the poets of High Modernism, Pound, Yeats and Stevens. Longenbach has also written a lot about the craft of poetry. His lectures on voice and imagery are available on YouTube, and he’s also published The Art of the Poetic Line in ‘The Art of’ series published by Graywolf. Earthling is Longenbach’s sixth book of poems, and, as might be imagined from the previous comments, it is a book of very careful construction and considerable craft and elegance. Longenbach’s lines are very controlled; they finish carefully, and there are seldom any line-final breaks between, for example, adjective and noun, or adverb and verb, which characterise so much contemporary writing. As a result, the poems have a carefully controlled sense of the lyric. Just occasionally, the poems feel a little ‘over-stilled’, as if the impulse wrought on the surface of the language is a little tight-lipped, a little stifled. But overall, this is a satisfying book, which has a delicate heft to it.

For a poet who is so concerned with the lyric, many of the poems are, actually, narratives. One such is ‘The Crocodile’. Voiced in the persona of the crocodile, the poem actually seems to explore, on one level, what it means to develop as a poet, even as it does so with a rather black humour:

‘What I wanted was to lift my body in unnatural postures
High above the earth, to dance,
To live beyond ideas.
Imagine feeling assured you were ...


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